New line, who dis? Cardinals linemen ready to adjust to Sam Bradford

Jun 6, 2018, 12:31 PM | Updated: Jun 7, 2018, 7:27 am
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TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman Mike Iupati has blocked for his fair share of quarterbacks.

Alex Smith. Colin Kaepernick. Carson Palmer.

And that’s not including the fill-ins that played for Arizona over the last couple of years.

With Sam Bradford expected to start the season behind center, Iupati will have to get used to a new presence with the ball.

“Everybody’s kind of different,” Iupati said.

For instance, Smith could run but was more of a pocket passer. When Kaepernick took over, the 49ers gave the athletic quarterback more freedom running the ball.

Palmer was the definition of a pocket passer, rarely taking off downfield; he rushed for exactly one touchdown over his five years in Arizona, then promptly fell over while attempting to spike the ball.

While Bradford is more mobile than Palmer was in the desert, he was never a passer who struck fear into defenses with his legs. And after arthroscopic knee surgery last season, he may try to stay in the pocket more.

Despite the differences in game style, Iupati doesn’t think there’s much difference between the quarterbacks he’s played with, protection-wise.

“He’s a vet, he knows his stuff,” Iupati said of Bradford. “I’m just excited to block for him.”

Though offensive lineman Andre Smith was only active four games in 2016, he played with Bradford in Minnesota that season.

While Bradford is best known for making short passes, Smith said that’s not the case.

He can throw all over the field, the lineman said.

In 2016, Bradford was the most accurate passer in the NFL. He completed 71.6 percent of passes and only threw five interceptions.

His reputation for short passes is fair. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Bradford’s average intended air yards (7.2) and average completed air yards (5.4) were both the lowest among the 39 quarterbacks it calculated.

He also ranked the highest in the NFL in rate of throws five yards or less, according to 1500ESPN’s Cian Fahey. The average NFL quarterback threw those passes 47 percent of the time.

Bradford: 62 percent.

His average depth of target — how far the pass traveled through the air — was 33rd in the league at 6.43 yards.

That doesn’t mean he can’t throw deep, though. Fahey’s statistics also found that Bradford was the most accurate quarterback on balls thrown more than 20 yards, at 66 percent, though he only attempted 40 such throws.

Bradford had the third-best passer rating on corner, post and go routes, according to Pro Football Focus.

Smith said the key to protecting Bradford is knowing the field.

“Just make sure you know where he is at all time and make sure you get to your guy and do the best job to keep him off level,” Smith said.

Whether it’s due to his short passing tendencies or simply because of the Vikings’ line — Pro Football Focus ranked the 2016 crew as the fourth-worst in the league — Bradford had the fifth-lowest time to throw that year, excluding sacks, according to Next Gen Stats.

The Cardinals have made adjustments on their own line after an injury-riddled 2017. Smith said it will take time to figure out the new team and the new quarterback, especially with backups Josh Rosen and Mike Glennon taking reps with Arizona holding Bradford back in terms of his workload this far out from the start of 2018.

“It’s a little adjustment period, but if you work anything hard, long enough, it’ll come to you eventually,” he said.

And the most important thing for any lineman on any team goes back to the most simple lesson for the position.

“Well, I usually just start with the basic,” Iupati said with a laugh. “Just block whoever’s in front of you.”

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